A nervous Mark O’Meara, reigning U.S. Amateur champion, did so much hacking in his inaugural Masters in 1980 that a patron behind the 12th tee said, “We ought to buy that boy a chainshaw for his next birthday.”
Two holes earlier, O’Meara had pushed an 8-foot par putt and got an earful from his caddie, known as Mac. “Did you not hear what I told you on that green?” Mac told him. “If you don’t listen to me, you’re never going to make a putt on these greens.”
O’Meara didn’t let go. “Let me explain something to you, Mac,” he said. “You drew the short straw when you pulled the U.S. Amateur champ. I’m not a pro and I don’t make any money. So that means you’re not looking too good at making any money, either. So let’s just try to get done without losing any clubs.”
On the next hole, the difficult 11th, O’Meara hooked a 5-wood second shot toward the pond and asked a rules official up there if he had seen his ball come that way. The official said, “Yeah, take a look at the scoreboard. Your ball took Andy North’s name right off the scoreboard and went through the board.”
O’Meara dropped, chunked a pitch into the pond and holed a 25-footer for triple bogey. He would shoot 80-81 and beat three players. Upon leaving, he told his concerned father that he was fine, adding, “No matter what happens in my life, I played the Masters one time.”
Eighteen years later, O’Meara holed a 20-foot birdie putt on 18 to win the Masters. His rosy-cheeked face beams as he recounts the rags-to-riches journey.
“There’s not that many people who could do that,” he said.
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Tom Lehman would tie for third in his first Masters in 1993, but he remembers the start more than the finish. As soon as he walked onto the first tee three minutes before his starting time on opening day, he was stunned to hear longtime announcer Phil Harison say, “Fore, please. Tom Lehman now driving.” Admittedly unprepared and panicked, not to mention nervous as a first-timer, he scrambled to get a glove, ball, tee and 3-wood and hurriedly teed off.
Before they walked off the tee, Lehman’s caddie Andrew Martinez asked Harison to explain the early call and got this in response: “Suh, at Augusta National we like to be teed off by our starting time.”
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Laura Andrassy, Greg Norman’s first wife, still can’t believe it happened. “I was shocked,” she says.
It was 1983 and Laura was walking into Augusta National to watch her husband play in his third Masters. She was carrying their 6-month-old daughter, Morgan-Leigh, against her chest in a baby pouch strapped over her shoulders. She showed her badge for admittance and then was stopped by a guard who asked to see Morgan’s ticket. Laura explained that her child was but six months, only to be told that everyone needed a pass to get in.
So a stunned Laura Norman turned around and went back to the family’s rented house because she didn’t have a pass for a baby. Greg got another badge, with Morgan’s name on it, for the remaining rounds and Laura pinned it to the pouch.
“I couldn’t believe they didn’t let her in,” Laura says now. “But you know the Masters; they do all kinds of silly things. Or at least they did back then.”
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For years, two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw would see a giant owl sitting high in a tree, above the patrons, at No. 6. When he first spotted the owl and gushed about it to caddie Carl Jackson, the trusty looper replied, “Yeah, we call him Mr. Roberts.” The reference was to co-founder Clifford Roberts, who oversaw all things Augusta National.
Then, one year the owl was gone and Jackson gave this eerie report to Crenshaw: “When Mr. Roberts took his life, nobody ever saw the owl again.”
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Larry Mize may have won the Masters in miraculous, chip-in fashion in 1987, but his mind flashes back to when his friend Bob Depew finally got to play Augusta National several years ago. While walking toward a drive he had flared way right into trees on No. 1, Depew gushed to his caddie, “This is so cool, getting to play the Masters course and walking in the same area where Bobby Jones used to walk.”
Without breaking stride, the caddie shot back, “Mr. Jones never walked over here.”
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Bernhard Langer goes down in Masters lore as the only person to have used Jesus Christ’s name twice in Butler Cabin during the nationally televised champion’s interview – once in a bad way, then in a loving light.
After the German won in 1985 and was asked if he had watched leaderboards, he said was surprised upon seeing the board on No. 9 and thought, “Jesus Christ, I can’t believe I’m four shots behind Curtis (Strange).” Within a couple of weeks, Langer had a stack of letters from viewers complaining.
“I didn’t mean to swear,” Langer says now. “I didn’t know. I wasn’t a Christian at the time. I heard a lot of other people use the name like that, and to me it was just a powerful expression.”
When he won eight years later and was asked in the cabin about which of the two victories meant more, the born-again Christian said it was more special to win on Easter Sunday, when the Resurrection is celebrated. Again, the mail piled up, only this time the reading was more pleasant.
“People I meet around the world still say they’re proud of me for saying that on TV,” Langer said.
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Not all the talk at Amen Corner is about golf. For more on the subject, let’s go to the stream of consciousness from longtime professional golfer Andrew Magee, who for the last four Masters has been stationed in the grandstand behind the 12th tee as a part of the BBC Radio 5 Live team.
“It’s most incredible. We’re calling the action a couple of years ago and we go, ‘Phil Mickelson here with a 10-footer for birdie on 12. Let’s go to our correspondent Claire Johnston in Paris for the start of the European steeplechase season, the Arc De Triomphe.’ So we listen to a three-minute breakdown from Claire on who’s going to win, the track, the mud. Now it’s back to the Masters and, ‘Ian Poulter here about to get up and down on No. 11. What an incredible comeback by Ian Poulter. Now let’s go to our correspondent Rob McNamara in New Delhi.’ ‘Prince Charles is about to make his entrance to the Commonwealth Games. And listen to the pageantry in India.’ We’re sitting in the grandstand in Augusta, Ga., listening to the pageantry of the Commonwealth Games. Then it’s back to us and, ‘OK, Padraig Harrington teeing off here on No. 12.’ It’s so hilarious. That’s good stuff.”
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At the 1979 Masters, reigning U.S. Amateur champion John Cook played three practice rounds with Ken Venturi, Tom Weiskopf and Ed Sneed. When they got done on tournament eve, Cook gushed to Venturi that Sneed, then a three-time PGA Tour winner and hardly one of the favorites, was playing nicely and should have a good week.
Venturi agreed, replying, “Yes, watch out for ol’ Edgar. I think he might be a sneaky pick this week.”
As it turned out, they were terrific talent scouts, for Sneed clearly outplayed everyone else – for 69 holes. But he lost a three-stroke lead when he bogeyed the last three holes, then lost a three-man playoff won by Fuzzy Zoeller.
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In 1988, Sandy Lyle hit a 7-iron from the fairway bunker on 18 to within 10 feet of the hole and made the putt for a one-stroke victory over Mark Calcavecchia. People still bring that up to Lyle, and you might say some like the famous shot more than others.
At a recent Champions Dinner on Tuesday night, none other than chairman Billy Payne pulled Lyle aside and said, “I’d like to tell you that every person I take as a guest on the golf course has to go see that bunker. You’re driving me crazy. It drives me nuts.”
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During a December visit to Augusta National with his father in the 1970s, a bemused Tom Kite was asked to go to the practice range and take about a half-dozen divots in the turf. Next thing he knew, the holes were meticulously filled with different green-dyed soil samples and a photographer climbed up an 8-foot ladder to take photos.
Kite would rack up nine top-5 finishes at Augusta. But on this day he was merely part of a plan to determine which green dirt would look best on national television.
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Hale Irwin had four consecutive top-5 finishes at the Masters in the 1970s, but his mind flashes back to a weather delay during which he and several others watched and wagered near the sixth tee as at least 10 patrons fell and slid down a grassy slope nearby.
“It was like, ‘Is this one going to go down?’ ” Irwin said. “So many people slipped, you could see the skid marks. It was one of the more entertaining moments at Augusta. It’s a very somber place, dedicated to tradition, and that’s fine. So that stands out as a rare lighthearted moment.”